267. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1
- My Meetings With the North Vietnamese September 26–27, 1972
I met for six hours September 262 and five and a half hours September 273 in our first two-day session ever with Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy. The sessions both narrowed our differences in some areas, and demonstrated how far we have to go in others. The North Vietnamese tabled a new plan which, while still unacceptable, contains certain political provisions that might signal a possible opening. They professed continued eagerness for a rapid settlement, and, after seeing our repackaged ten point plan, complained we were moving too slowly in our positions. We agreed to meet again for three successive days starting October 7, which we may want to slip a day.
On the first day they displayed the same sense of urgency for an early end to the war that they did on September 15. They took up the first two hours laying out a concrete work program designed to wrap up an overall settlement within a month, pushing again the idea of a trip by me to Hanoi to overcome final differences. After a businesslike point-by-point review of our agreements and differences, Tho tabled their third new comprehensive proposal in four meetings—in the past they stuck with their plans for at least six months. Furthermore he did this after I said I wanted to withhold our own proposal to reflect on his comments overnight.
Their new plan, though still unacceptable, shows major movement in some respects. Though retaining the three-segment Government of National Concord, it continues their steady trend of stripping away [Page 979] both (1) its powers and (2) the levers for communist domination of its composition:
- • In this newest plan the Government of National Concord has largely advisory functions centered on implementing the overall agreement and mediating between the two sides. It would have no army, or police, or defined territory. And it would only “supervise” the foreign policy of the two sides. The GVN (and PRG) remain in existence with armies and police intact. They would administer the areas they control and conduct their foreign policy.
- • This represents a major and continued evolution in their position. The unacceptable principle of a “government” remains, but it is steadily being shorn of meaning. Their August 1 plan4 assigned this government “full power in dealing with domestic and foreign affairs.” The GVN and PRG would cease to exist.
- • Their September 15 plan5 stated that the GVN (and PRG) would remain temporarily in existence, but they had to implement the decisions of the Provisional Government of National Concord in the framework of the latter’s tasks and prerogatives as described above and any laws contrary to the provisions of the DRV plan would be “abrogated.”
- • In this newest plan the Provisional Government of National Concord and its subordinate commissions “will operate in accordance with the principle of unanimity.” The government is composed of three equal segments, one-third from each side plus mutual agreement on the other third, and there is a stipulation that “no party may dominate” the coalition government. It is almost impossible to visualize how this three-headed “government” could take any meaningful decisions since all its elements must be in agreement.
- • This too represents a major and continuing evolution. Before this summer’s proposals the other side’s position was that one-third of the coalition government would be from their forces, one-third neutral (according to their definition), and one-third from the Saigon Administration (over which they would have a veto). Furthermore, this “government” was going to negotiate with the PRG! In the August 1 and September 15 plans there was no mention of how decisions would be taken, implying majority rule.
This plan is still far from acceptable because elements like Thieu’s immediate resignation upon signature of an overall agreement and the continued presence of the North Vietnamese army in the South, would all but ensure the psychological demoralization and political deterioration of the GVN. But from Hanoi’s perspective it represents major movement. And if surfaced, this plan would look much more reasonable to public opinion than their past plans. In fact, it is not inconsistent with their eventually turning their coalition government into an irrelevant committee in order to give a facesaving cover to a standstill ceasefire and de facto territorial control by both sides.
I withheld our political proposals the first day, tabling only our repackaging of other points which maintained our essential positions. On the second day, I gave them a new comprehensive plan which further incorporated some of their language without significant substantive change. The main features were two suggestions I said we would recommend to Thieu during General Haig’s trip to Saigon6—giving the Committee of National Reconciliation some additional conciliatory functions, and providing for National Assembly, as well as Presidential, elections.
Both sides reviewed all issues again, specifying agreements and disagreements. Among the more significant points that emerged:
- —Their assurances that there were no American POWs in Cambodia and that the few in Laos would be released by their friends.
- —Their explicit confirmation that North Vietnamese troops were in Laos and Cambodia and their guarantee that they would be withdrawn after a settlement. Though they won’t put this in writing, this is the first time they have ever addressed this issue in any fashion.
- —Their repeated emphasis on settling within the next month, reflected in their work program, their interest in getting me to Hanoi, their desire to emasculate the other forums, and their dropping of subsidiary issues like general principles and procedures.
- —Their repeated underlining of their political concessions, including the lesser functions of the coalition government (and larger role for the GVN and PRG); and the unanimity principle for that government’s operations.
Toward the end Tho’s tone hardened as he claimed they had made major concessions while we were inching forward and concentrating on peripheral issues. He stressed they had made their “final” offer—which may or may not be a bargaining ploy, but in any event probably reflects their view that they have made a major move in their political position. However, they remained eager for a three-day series of meetings next time which they said would be “decisive.” I emphasized we would never overthrow friends we had worked with for so long and that we could not accept their new plan. Both sides agreed to review their positions.
It remains clear that the North Vietnamese want a settlement if at all possible before our elections give this Administration a fresh mandate. The central question is, of course, whether they want it badly enough to accept terms that we and Thieu can also accept. Their plan is still far from that point, and the very complexity of the issues make a settlement in the next month highly unlikely.
This latest encounter suggests three possibilities:
- —Their September 26 plan may indeed be their “final” offer. They may find it impossible to water down their political position any further after twenty years of struggle.
- —They may be keeping up the tempo in the conviction that pre-election pressures will make us cave in at the last moment. (Dobrynin has told me that this is what they are telling Moscow.)
- —By stressing the finality of their proposal, they may be trying desperately to prove to their hawks in Hanoi that we won’t budge further and that further concessions from them are needed.
Under the first two hypotheses, when we make clear next time once again that we will not accept an imposed coalition government, however diluted, the talks could be suspended. In that event we would be in a strong position. We would have no need to go public ourselves, but if the North Vietnamese did (which is by no means certain) we could dominate public debate with our negotiating record and the unreasonableness of some of their stands. The other side’s military prospects in both North and South Vietnam are hardly promising; it is doubtful that they could pull off any spectacular psychological stunts on the battlefield, let alone make meaningful strategic gains. Once this were apparent, say early next year, they could return to the bargaining table, perhaps to make a deal on military issues alone.
Under the third hypothesis, the North Vietnamese, because of their military and political predicament, still have a decisive card to play which could produce a negotiated solution that leaves the GVN intact and every chance to maintain control. Thus Tho’s emphasis on their having made [Page 982] their “final” proposal would be a bargaining ploy to extract every possible concession from us for the benefit of the Politburo before making their final painful move. In this case a rapid and honorable settlement would be possible, and our major problem would probably be with our friends.
Whatever the actual North Vietnamese position—and they appear sufficiently off balance that they may not have made a final decision—our immediate task is to convince Thieu of the importance of public solidarity with us as we continue the negotiating process through at least one more round. Our proposals, while generous, substantively maintain the integrity of the GVN and its governmental system; the only major political departure since January is to specify that the electoral commission (now called the Committee of National Reconciliation) is composed of three forces. However, as you know, Thieu maintains he is anxious about the possible psychological impact in his country, and he is not on board with that section of our political point.
Thus we will want General Haig to reemphasize to Thieu our continuing commitment to the GVN; point out the major efforts we have made in his behalf the last four years; explain our strategy; stress that he must show understanding of our problems; and secure his agreement to a new proposal which maintains a serious posture.
We are exploring possible variations of our September 27 plan that take advantage of the possible openings in the other side’s positions. We must shape elements that will continue to preserve the GVN’s integrity while having enough of interest to the other side to accomplish one of two objectives:
- —If they are ready to settle, getting them to do so.
- —If they are not, inducing them to study our proposal and meet again.
We will want to gain Thieu’s understanding of our strategy, acquiescence in a new plan, and in any event assurance that he will not publicly sabotage our efforts.
What Happened—First Day
Without prompting, Tho opened up the discussion, and we spent the first two hours on a work program for the coming weeks.
—They repeatedly emphasized the need to complete a comprehensive settlement during October. Tho asked if we were merely trying to drag out negotiations past the elections, or if we really wanted a quick settlement signed by October 15, as they urged at the previous meeting. He said they were prepared to cope with either eventuality.
—I emphasized the popular support in the U.S. for your Vietnam policy. It was not because of the election that we wanted a settlement. Nevertheless, to be realistic, there were numerous points of disagreement [Page 983] between us, and even on those points on which we were near agreement there were differences in nuance. It was difficult to see how we could finish quickly unless they joined us in drafting agreed language and there were political breakthroughs.
After considerable discussion, we agreed to the following work schedule, which is unreal in view of our remaining differences:
—Meet again in ten days for three successive days in order to reach basic agreement on all issues.
—At the conclusion of those meetings decide whether a trip by me to Hanoi would be useful to overcome remaining obstacles. They raised this project again and urged us to prepare a schedule and agenda for the trip. They said cessation of bombing and mining would create favorable conditions for the trip; I refused to agree to this.
—Once there is basic agreement between the U.S. and DRV the experts would work on the details so that an overall agreement could be signed by the four parties by the end of October.
They clearly have decided to render the other forums meaningless. I continued to stress that the four-party and GVN–PRG forums would have to do the basic negotiating after US–DRV agreement in principle. And I emphasized that our schedule was meaningless unless we made progress on the substantive issues and agreed language for a settlement.
After a break, Tho again spoke first, going through every point and comparing the two sides’ positions. He was in effect drawing upon their new proposal which he tabled at the end of the meeting. Highlights of his presentation and my later comments on it were as follows:
—He stressed the need for our affirming the unity of Vietnam. I later made the point that this did not yet exist, but we would not stand in the way of reunification and would respect it once it’s achieved. (This is largely a semantic point which is soluble.)
—He said they wanted Constituent Assembly elections rather than Presidential elections. (They fear a rigged election for the winner-take-all post, and also want to challenge the current government framework.) I later emphasized the forthcoming aspects of our proposal, but said we would consider their point about a Presidential election alone.
—Tho stressed the need to spell out what democratic liberties would be guaranteed in South Vietnam. This reflects their concern about reprisals. I said we would consider whether we could be more specific.
—He showed apparent interest at this first session in our Committee for National Reconciliation, but said that it should do more then supervise elections. I made clear that we could not give it governmental powers but would see what other functions might be assigned to it. (We could in fact add some essentially empty tasks of conciliation between the two sides.)[Page 984]
—He particularly underlined a less ambitious role for their Provisional Government of National Concord. They would be “realistic” and only assign implementation of the provisions of the overall agreement to this government. Meanwhile the GVN and PRG would remain in existence, govern the regions they controlled and run their foreign policies. But Thieu would still have to resign right after the overall agreement. (Even more important is their provision that the provisional government and its committees must make decisions on a unanimous basis. Tho emphasized this aspect of their plan on the second day.)
—On U.S. withdrawals they maintained a forty-five day limit. I stuck to our position of three months. (This issue is manageable.)
—Tho said military aid and troop reinforcements should be cut off both from the GVN and the PRG after a settlement, with only weapons replacement allowed. I later pointed out this was unrealistic unless North Vietnam were similarly restricted; otherwise Hanoi would ship supplies to its friends.
—He maintained that the question of Vietnamese forces (including North Vietnamese) should be settled between the GVN and PRG alone.
—On ceasefire, he again limited its scope to Vietnam alone, stressing that it would soon follow in Laos and Cambodia. I later emphasized that all of Indochina would have to be covered since they had troops in all three countries. He wanted us to spell out in writing what we had already agreed to—that ceasefire should come upon completion of an overall agreement. (This is no problem for us.) Finally he said the ceasefire should be standstill. I replied later that we preferred the neutral formulation, “general” ceasefire, but our views on its modalities would make clear its standstill nature.
—He began to back off somewhat from their arrogant position on reparations, but still insisted on watered down language in an agreement and maintained their sum of $9 billion for Vietnam alone. I left no doubt that we would never acknowledge responsibility for reparations and that their figures were out of the question. (Innocuous language on reconstruction may be possible here.)
—Tho gave further views on international supervision and guarantees. Concerning the international supervision body, he suggested that this be composed of four members, two nominated by each side. They were dropping the fifth member, thus responding to my flat statement on September 15 that we would never accept India. For example, he saw no reason that international guarantees cover a ceasefire since it would be supervised internationally. As a “private stand” he thought that an international conference to provide guarantees for all of Indochina might be useful once the problems in all three countries were settled.
—He concluded that a Vietnam settlement alone would speed agreement and soon lead to solution of the Laos and Cambodia problems.[Page 985]
I responded to his statement, indicating what was unacceptable and where we might find new language. In particular, I stressed:
—We had a massive amount of work to do if we wanted an early settlement. We had to reach agreement in principle on each issue; draft common language for a settlement; and agree on some details of implementation to speed up the work in the other forums.
—We would conclude no agreement unless all prisoners in Indochina were released. He later said that no American military personnel were being held in Cambodia; few in Laos; and they would make sure their friends released them in any event.
—I handed over an illustrative paper on the modalities for withdrawals and prisoner release, each paced evenly over three months.
—On international supervision, I said we were suggesting the substitution of Indonesia for India in a five member commission, but we would consider their proposal of four members only.
—On some of the subsidiary issues, like reunification, I indicated where we might make adjustments in our language.
—On the political issue, I summed up our differences. I stated flatly that we could not overthrow our allies. We could agree to start a historical process to give all forces a fair chance. But their approach was unacceptable. The American people strongly supported our position and would never tolerate our dumping an ally we had worked with for so long.
—I emphasized that we had made major efforts to come up with new proposals and that we had had great difficulties with Saigon.
Tho made some final comments, prefacing his new proposal which he called their “final” plan and a great step forward.
—On the political question he emphasized that the GVN and PRG would remain in existence while the Provisional Government would be limited to implementing the provisions of the agreement.
—In addition to his assurances that all our prisoners would be released, his most interesting comment was on their troops in Laos and Cambodia. In response to my pointed questions, he did not deny they were in those countries and assured us they would all withdraw as part of the Laos and Cambodia settlements which would quickly follow the Vietnam one.
—He refused to put this assurance in writing, claiming (as on prisoners and ceasefire) that the U.S. and DRV could not unilaterally decide matters for Laos and Cambodia. (This verbal commitment, of course, means nothing in itself, but we can perhaps build on it. It is the first time they have ever addressed this problem.)
—Tho also showed further interest in our Committee of National Reconciliation concept, urging that it be assigned more tasks.[Page 986]
—He pointed again to what he called their “great concession” on military aid being cut off to the PRG as well as the GVN once there is an agreement. They would write down this commitment.
At the end of the meeting, Tho tabled the new DRV 10-point plan, whose highlights are as follows:
—Point 1: They maintain their language on U.S. respect for Vietnam, including unity, as recognized by the Geneva Agreement. The U.S. will not interfere in Vietnam’s internal affairs.
—Points 2 and 3: U.S. withdrawal and prisoner release will take place in 45 days, as in their September 15 plan.
—Poient 4: Here they presented their political proposal with what could be very significant changes:
- • General elections for a Constituent Assembly would be held six months after signing of an agreement, as in their former plan.
- • Democratic freedoms would be materialized—these are spelled out.
- • The Government of National Concord would have the following
- —Implement signed agreements, direct and supervise implementation by the two SVN parties.
- —Materialize democratic liberties and national concord and direct and supervise enforcement by the SVN parties.
- —Review policies and laws of the two SVN parties and stimulate latter to amend or abrogate policies and laws conflicting with signed agreement.
- —Organize elections.
- —Draft a new constitution.
- —Supervise applications by the two South Vietnamese parties of the foreign policy of peace and neutrality.
- • Comment: These tasks obviously remain too ambitious. However, the steady trend of watering down the government functions continues. The Provisional Government used to conduct in effect all internal and foreign policies of South Vietnam. Now the GVN (and PRG) administer their areas of control, maintain their armies and police, and conduct foreign policy, while the so-called Provisional Government’s role is increasingly one of conciliation.
- • The three segments of the GNC will be equal, and there will be necessary measures to ensure that no party dominates.
- • The GNC will be composed of 12 members, with Chairmanship rotating among the three segments. All decisions will be taken by unanimous vote.
- • As in the past, National Concord Committees will be established at all levels to implement the agreement locally. These too will act only with unanimity.
- • Comment: This unanimity principle could prove to be very important. Given the three segment composition, with no one dominating, it is hard to see how the so-called government could decide anything. Thus, no matter what tasks are nominally assigned to it, it could be virtually a powerless figurehead.
- • The GVN and PRG would continue to exist temporarily to administer the areas controlled by them, and both would have the right to maintain their existing foreign relations. However, they would still have to implement decisions of the Government of National Concord.
- • As in previous plans, Thieu would resign on signature of the agreement.
—Point 5: The question of Vietnamese armed forces in South Vietnam will be solved by the GVN and PRG, as in earlier plans.
—Point 6: Their point on reunification, stressing the unity of Vietnam and gradual reunification based on discussions between North and South, is unchanged.
—Point 7: The U.S. has the responsibility to heal war wounds in North and South Vietnam. Nine billion dollars is still suggested.
—Point 8: The DRV now states that the U.S. stop bombing and mining in North Vietnam as soon as the U.S. and DRV have reached agreement on the 10 points. Thus these actions would stop before an overall agreement is reached, although under the DRV-suggested work program this would only be a matter of two or three weeks. A ceasefire in South Vietnam will be observed on signing of the overall agreement. As part of a ceasefire, neither South Vietnamese party will accept military aid or reinforcement. The ceasefire will be internationally controlled and supervised.
—Point 9: The international supervision and control commission is to composed of four rather than five, countries, with each side presenting two members for the approval of the other. Troop withdrawal and releases, as well as the ceasefire, will be controlled and supervised. General elections will be supervised. The ICSC will not interfere in internal Vietnamese affairs. There will be international guarantees for respect of Vietnamese fundamental rights, South Vietnam’s neutrality, and the preservation of lasting peace. The 15 guarantee countries (the four parties in Paris, Laos, Cambodia, the three ICC members, the five UN Security Council members, and the UN Secretary General) would work out a joint declaration.
—Point 10: The problems of the Indochinese countries will be settled by those countries themselves.
We then agreed to adjourn overnight and study each other’s positions.[Page 988]
What Happened—Second Day
Tho opened the next day’s session with a report that VC cadre were being killed in South Vietnam’s jails. He asked us to use our influence to stop it. I replied that we would look into it and if it were true we would use all our influence to stop it. However, we had reports that their side was carrying out its own program of assassination—I read from a captured Communist document. This had to stop.
As an introduction to my presentation of our revised plan, I made the following points on procedures:
- —As soon as we reached agreement between us, we should activate the PRG/GVN and the Kleber four-party forum. The U.S. and DRV could not—and should not—do all the work and present the other parties with a fait accompli.
- —We should announce the agreement between us in order to speed up work in the other forums. If they wished, we could do this after the election, thus assuring them that we were not influenced by our elections.
- —I then asked Tho whether he wanted to discuss the general guiding principles for a settlement on which both sides had exchanged several drafts. I said we were ready with a new draft of principles. (These documents spell out the overall attitude of both sides toward the long term aspects of a settlement, e.g. the future U.S. role in the area and the future orientation of the region. They would at most provide a general framework and, if published, might give some impetus to the negotiations.)
- —I then went through our new proposal, point by point, discussing the new elements in each. In the middle of my presentation Tho displayed impatience and wanted me to get right to the political point. I replied that if we couldn’t agree on the points on which we were already close, how could we come to agreement on the political question? I pointed out the following important new elements in our plan:
- —In point 1 we specifically stated we would not obstruct the unity of Vietnam and would repeat it once achieved, in response to Tho’s stated concerns.
- —Our point 3, on prisoners, remained the same. However, I referred to the implementation paper we had handed them the previous day, stressing access to detention facilities, verification of MIA’s, and the necessity of getting back all our POW’s throughout Indochina. I noted the assurances Tho had given us on our prisoners in Laos (as well as there being none in Cambodia).
- —On point 6, I pointed out that, at their request, we had dropped the phrase that reunification would be achieved “after a [Page 989] suitable interval”, thus making it clear we were not trying to keep Vietnam divided.
- —In point 7, we had a new statement on U.S. acknowledgment of the unity of the Indochinese countries, as stipulated in the 1954 Geneva Accords.
- —In point 9, I pointed out that while we maintained the phrase “general” (instead of “standstill”) ceasefire, our implementation paper made it clear that our definitions were the same. I then handed them a paper spelling out our ideas.
- —In point 10, I summed up our new implementation papers on international supervision and international guarantees, and handed them over.
- —I then returned to point 4, the political issue, pointing out the changes we had made, responding to their specific observations in previous meetings.
• We spelled out what we meant by “democratic liberties” (freedom of speech, press, etc.).
• We provided for new elections for a National Assembly, in addition to the Presidential election. This was a tentative suggestion until we cleared it with the GVN.
• We expanded the functions of the Committee for National Reconciliation (CNR) to include resolving differences between the two sides in implementing the agreement and playing a general conciliatory role. This too had to be cleared with Saigon.
• We specifically included their position that the political forces would deal with each other on the basis of “mutual respect and non-elimination” (they are concerned about annihilation of PRG members).
• We added our statement of principle that the U.S. was not committed to any particular political force or personality in South Vietnam and did not insist on a pro-U.S. government there.
• Comment: None of these changes affect the essence of our position.
I then ran down a list of concerns Tho expressed the day before to show him we had concretely answered almost every one.
Tho then made a tough statement, stressing the major moves they had made in contrast to our small gestures. (He was undoubtedly disappointed that our modifications were not central and that we had not responded more enthusiastically to what they probably consider significant political concessions on their part.)
—He said Vietnamese unity was a basic principle of their position which we should recognize explicitly in our proposals. Our language changes were not sufficient.[Page 990]
—On the political point he stuck to the necessity of organizing their three-segment Government of National Concord. Without such a government, it would be impossible to bring about a lasting peace. Interestingly, he emphasized that decisions would be taken by consultations and unanimous vote, and that neither side would dominate. He called our concept of the Committee of National Reconciliation neither realistic nor concrete. He repeated that their new plan was their “final” proposal. If there were not a settlement based on it, the fighting would continue.
—Concerning elections, he repeated their point that Presidential elections would lead to personal dictatorship, and that elections should be for a Constituent Assembly. This Assembly in turn would appoint the various officers of the state.
—We had not spelled out democratic liberties at sufficient length.
—On Thieu’s resignation, he wanted to know our concrete ideas on the timing. I later replied that we had stipulated one month before elections and this might be stretched to two months.
—On military subjects, he repeated their stands in their plan.
• He said they would study our ceasefire paper and reply later.
• Re reparations, he agreed to drop a set figure from the formal agreement but still insisted that one sentence stating U.S. responsibility be included—the language could be negotiated.
—He commented on our proposals and papers on international supervision and guarantees. He said the International Control and Supervision Commission should not supervise the political point (except elections) or the disposition of Vietnamese armed forces in SVN, as this would be interference in the internal affairs of South Vietnam. There was no need for a guarantee of ceasefire since this was already under the supervision of the ICSC. He rejected our paper’s proposal for a supervisory force of 7–12,000 men (i.e. a meaningful force). This would be one more occupation force, which would lead to resumption of the fighting.
Tho followed with a list of principles on which he said they would not change. In response to my assertion that this looked like an ultimatum, he said the language on these points was negotiable, though not the essence.
—On political questions, these included the unity of Vietnam; an administration with the power and the concrete tasks to implement the agreements; elections for a Constituent Assembly, not the Presidency; the assurance of democratic liberties.
—On military questions: the U.S. must end its aid to Saigon after an agreement (aid to the PRG would stop as well); and the question of DRV troop withdrawals should not be covered in our forum.[Page 991]
—On Indochina questions: they would not interfere in Laos and Cambodian affairs (e.g. ceasefire for Vietnam alone). He said they would fully implement the assurances on prisoners and North Vietnamese withdrawals they had given us the previous day. Once the Vietnam problem was solved, solutions in Laos and Cambodia would quickly follow.
Tho then listed what he called the major concessions they had made:
—They no longer called for Thieu’s immediate resignation. I pointed out the absurdity of their supposed concession on this issue—i.e. their saying Thieu should resign upon signature of an overall agreement gave Thieu four more weeks in office under their work schedule.
—This was their third proposal in succession on a Government of National Concord.
—They had lengthened the timetable for U.S. withdrawals and had committed themselves to end military aid to the PRG. I pointed out that giving us 15 more days to withdraw was hardly a concession. As for military aid, we could not stop our assistance to the GVN so long as Hanoi received aid which they could funnel south.
—They had dropped the word “reparations.” I again made emphatic our stand on this issue.
—They had given us an assurance about foreign forces (i.e. including their own) in Laos and Cambodia.
He concluded by stressing the generosity and finality of their proposal and their view that the movement we were making on our own was too slow. He complained that we were spending too much time on peripheral issues.
I reacted sharply to Tho’s presentation. Both sides had their principles and would have to recognize the other side’s point of view if we wanted to settle. Also, if we were to reach early agreement we would have to agree on common positions on non-political issues as well as get over the obstacles on the political one. He agreed but said the political question was top priority. He acknowledged that their formulations could change but not their basic tenets.
After a break, I asked Tho a number of questions about his statement and his proposal, which produced little new specifically, but a generally more conciliatory attitude on their part.
The meeting ended with both sides agreeing to study each other’s proposals. I stressed our view that if we were ultimately to meet our timetable, we would need to start drafting specific language on points on which we were near agreement, in addition to trying to narrow our gap on the political point. We would study their proposal [Page 992] seriously and make an effort on various points. They would have to do the same with our plan.
Tho said it was clear that our next three-day meeting would be “decisive.” He emphasized the need to concentrate on the central questions first, including the political ones. When the big problems were solved, the others would come easily.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1039, For the President’s Files—China/Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David, 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.↩
- The full text of the 52-page, September 26 memorandum of conversation is ibid., Box 864, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David Memcons, May–October 1972 [2 of 5]. The various American and North Vietnamese papers handed around and mentioned in Kissinger’s memorandum are attached.↩
- The full text of the 47-page, September 27 memorandum of conversation is ibid. The various American and North Vietnamese papers handed around and mentioned in Kissinger’s memorandum are attached.↩
- See Document 225.↩
- See Document 263.↩
- According to backchannel message WHS 2170 from Kissinger to Bunker, September 25, Haig’s objectives in Saigon were threefold: “1. To gain an updated personal assessment for the President, of military situation and prospects; 2. Discuss U.S. policy in support of South Vietnam after the November elections; 3. Discuss the current status and prospects of the negotiations in Paris.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 413, Backchannel, Backchannel Messages, To Amb. Bunker—Saigon, September–December 1972) See also Document 272. Haig was in Saigon October 1–4.↩